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U.S. Space Command Says Russia Tested Anti-Satellite Weapon From Space

July 24, 2020 by Gaspard Le Dem
A Russian Soyuz 2.1v rocket launches a classified military satellite into orbit from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russian on Nov. 25, 2019. (Image: © Roscosmos)

U.S. Space Command on Wednesday said it had proof that Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon from outer space last week.

The agency, which is in charge of U.S. military operations in space, said that a Russian satellite by the name of Cosmos 2543 had “injected” an object into orbit on July 15. 

The 18th Space Control Squadron is now “actively and consistently” tracking the object from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, about 160 miles northwest of Los Angeles, a spokesperson said.

In a statement, U.S. Space Command denounced the test, calling it “inconsistent” with the Russian spacecraft’s stated mission as an “inspector” satellite.

“The Russian satellite system used to conduct this on-orbit weapons test is the same satellite system that we raised concerns about earlier this year, when Russia maneuvered near a U.S. government satellite,” said General John Raymond, commander of U.S. Space Command and U.S. Space Force chief of space operations. “This is further evidence of Russia’s continuing efforts to develop and test space-based systems, and consistent with the Kremlin’s published military doctrine to employ weapons that hold U.S. and allied space assets at risk.”

It’s not the first time U.S. space officials noticed unusual activity coming from Russian satellites.

In February, U.S. Space Command said Cosmos 2543 and another Russian satellite named Cosmos 2542 had conducted “irresponsible and potentially threatening” activity near a U.S. government satellite that resembled weapon testing.

“This event highlights Russia’s hypocritical advocacy of outer space arms control, with which Moscow aims to restrict the capabilities of the United States while clearly having no intention of halting its own counterspace program,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Ford on Wednesday.

U.S. officials have repeatedly sounded the alarm that Russia is escalating military operations in outer space by sending out “killer” satellite prototypes capable of firing missiles at other spacecraft.

In 2018, a top State Department official warned diplomats at a disarmament conference in Geneva that a Russian “space apparatus inspector” satellite was behaving unlike “anything seen before.” 

“We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it,” said Yleem D.S. Poblete, assistant secretary of state for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance. “But Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development…”

Poblete urged the United Nations and other international groups to pass stricter laws regulating the types of spacecraft that can be sent into orbit. “We must take concrete steps to strengthen the safety, stability, and sustainability of space,” she said.

Despite that rhetoric, the U.S. has also been working on building up a military presence beyond Earth’s atmosphere. In December, President Trump officially launched the U.S. Space Force, a sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Services, by signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.

Though the move was billed by the White House as necessary to ensure U.S. space dominance, it was slammed by critics who raised concerns over the cost of creating a new military branch. 

According to the Department of Defense, roughly 16,000 Air Force troops have been assigned to the Space Force, which has a proposed budget of $15.4 billion for fiscal year 2021.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Space Force revealed its new logo and motto, “Semper Supra”, which means “always above.” In its official mission statement, the newly minted military branch says it “organizes, trains, and equips space forces in order to protect U.S. and allied interests in space and to provide space capabilities to the joint force.”

As of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Russia’s Cosmos 2543 was orbiting about 400 miles over the West Coast at a speed of roughly 5 miles per second, according to satellite tracker N2YO.

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